Sunday, 24 March 2013

… and along came a Pied Wagtail!

A snow covered garden for two weeks has brought some great garden watching as birds flocked in numbers to feeders. Fortunately Mrs Blackbird found nesting material under my hedge although I can’t imagine she really felt like making a nest in the cold days we have had here.

Image above: Snowflake flowers, Coal Tit & Male Chaffinch on tree branches,
Mr Blackbird feeding in sunshine while Mrs Blackbird is busy shopping in the shade.

After the first garden sighting of a Yellowhammer back at the beginning of February it was great to see it back (in time for Mother’s Day) and this time he bought friends. I’ve yet to sort the many photos and video clips I took but I do believe there were at least three males visiting and two females. I was delighted to get a couple together – were they a pair?

Female Yellowhammer in foreground.

After taking my visits of daily Yellowhammers for granted, despite still having snow on the ground, they stopped yesterday. Yep… as the title says… and along came a Pied Wagtail!

Being honest, I never expected to see this little black and white bird with a long bobbing tail wandering around my garden. I was thrilled. I suspect the large groups of Chaffinches that bring other winter birds in to my garden feeders probably brought the Pied Wagtail (Motacilla alba) too.

However, the Pied Wagtail wasn’t exactly grateful to the Chaffinches as it continually chased them (quite aggressively at times) away from the food on the ground that they had been previously enjoying with the Yellowhammers. The thing is, the Pied Wagtail wasn’t even interested in the trays of sunflower hearts!

Mmm… this chasing was, in part, due to my actions I suspect. On seeing this bird arrive, I looked up my favourite bird feeding book and read what it liked to eat – stale crumbs, grated cheese and mealworms.

Ah… I had plenty of mealworms in my shed (lol – a Mother’s day gift) so I crushed some down a bit (knowing Starlings and Blackbirds would run away with them otherwise) and put them in the area near the feeder trays where the Pied Wagtail was first seen. I guess the Pied Wagtail was just looking after its find when it was chasing the Chaffinches.

This first Pied Wagtail arrived just after 10am and was the last bird to be spotted yesterday leaving after 6pm – now that’s what I call a serious day visit to a garden! Let’s take a little look at some highlights the Pied Wagtail garden tour…

Crossing the open grass area to see what’s available at the hedge side
(nice thin snow here after it was cleared for access to feeders).

Rock climbing around the pond area – a favourite spot.

Time for a snack - the crushed mealworms near the Acer feeders were very tasty.

Time for a drink – ah… fresh running water (need to keep up fluids with all this walking).

Time for a bit of preening – got to look my best. This is a nice perch on a feeder table.

Some time away from the crowds required – mealworm to go.

Time for a trip up tree feeder tower – where is Mr Siskin’s head?

This is a nice garden viewpoint – you can take my picture here if you’d like.

Oh that pesky snow is starting again – quick one more photo.

Although the Pied Wagtail messed up the relative harmony at the busy feeders yesterday it definitely kept my 'camera' attention for a large part of the day. It was an entertaining bird to watch as the compilation of video clips below will show.

Once I uploaded my many clips for editing (like the Pied Wagtail knew) it took a good period of preening in one of my borders where the light was good - so my camera came out again. It is a lovely close-up of a bird that doesn’t stay still for long. I was delighted to get this extra piece of footage. Enjoy…

Pied Wagtail on garden visit, video 1:51 with gentle background music, try 720p HD quality.

So, to the big question - would the Pied Wagtail return this morning? Yes is the answer. It was the first bird I saw when I opened my curtains! Okay, I wasn’t going to let it rule the feeders for a second day so ‘Starling tactics’ were required. What are ‘Starling tactics’ I hear you ask ;-)

A few years ago, a single Blue tit Mum tried in vain during a wet Spring to feed her chicks. After seeing her take the last bits of a fatcake into her chicks (camera in nestbox) I put out a new fatcake to help her. Unfortunately the Starlings are a fan of this and hampered her getting near as they attempted to devour it. My solution at the time (as per a suggestion by an RSPB staff member at a local visitor centre) was to provide easier food for the Starlings in the way of fatballs on the ground away from the other feeders. This did work for the main part and enough for the Blue tit Mum to get access to the fatcake. Sadly her chicks died anyway.

The ‘Starling tactics’ I employed for the Pied Wagtail this morning was much easier. I made a lose trail of crushed mealworms and breadcrumbs towards Hedgehog Manor and sprinkled a generous supply in there together with a fresh dish of water. It didn’t take too long for the Blackbirds to find this food as they already knew this as a source (I feed hedgehogs here). It wasn’t too long after that and the Pied Wagtail was seen on camera - although it was a tad nervous of coming inside at first.

The Pied Wagtail now had more choices in food areas and although it did return to the pond area where the Chaffinches were feeding there were no mealworms there for it to protect. The Blackbirds would chase the Pied Wagtail at times and the Chaffinches seemed to know that they could come down in numbers if the Blackbirds were about. It’s been fascinating to observe the behaviour of birds in my garden.

There was a bit more harmony in my wind chilled garden today, it was lovely to see a female Brambling feed at the pond area too (photos another time). Towards the end of the afternoon, when the garden was fairly quiet, I’m delighted to report that a group of Yellowhammers landed on my still snow covered lawn. I didn’t see them at feeders, nor did I see where the Pied Wagtail was at the time. Hopefully they will return although my problem then will be stopping taking more photos and video of this very pretty bird that I know will be gone when the snow goes.

As for the entertaining Pied Wagtail – it brought a friend at one point today! I was getting a tad worried that we could see an invasion but as the mealworms were tucked away this second bird didn’t find them nor stay long - phew! Have you had entertaining antics with birds in your garden this weekend?

Finally, an update from my previous post where I promoted the appeal by Scottish Wildlife Trust for funds for an Osprey satellite tracking device – brilliant news there as they have met their target very quickly! They are now looking to raise the target to get two devices which is great news all round. Like many people around the world, I’m looking forward to following the Osprey stories for 2013.

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in March 2013.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Urgent Appeal: Osprey Satellite Tracking 2013

Today, the blog from SWT Reserve Loch of the Lowes shared the great news that the satellite tracking project for Ospreys here in Scotland was continuing into 2013! As I have followed the story of the Ospreys here on my blog, I’d like to help promote their appeal.

Although the news is great – the challenge in raising enough funds to order one satellite tracking device (approximate cost £3,000) from a manufacturer in the USA by the end of March is even greater! The tags need to be manufactured & imported in time for tagging in early July.

Ranger Emma, Jonathan and the team at Loch of the Lowes are hoping they will receive enough donations to continue this exciting project. They have gained a huge insight already as you can see from a recent reminder blog by Emma.

If you would like to support this appeal you can donate here selecting ‘Osprey satellite tracking’.

Next week could see the oldest known Osprey in the UK, affectionately known as Lady, return to this Perthshire nest for a staggering 23rd consecutive year! Her reign on this nest has been remarkable but if she does return can she still hold on to it? There are always other interested females turning up at this well watched eyrie at Loch of the Lowes.

The webcams are up and running for 2013 and anticipation for the breeding year and the return of Lady is high. I’m certain many of her worldwide followers will be glued to the webcam for the first sightings of an Osprey on this nest for 2013 with fingers tightly crossed for it to be Lady! Note: If you are a regular blog visitor I've added a picture link to this webcam in my sidebar - I'll be usuing that link a lot myself this year :-)

As for the tracking of Lady's 2012 chick Blue44, after starting well the signal from his device stopped transmitting back in Dec 2012. Is he still alive? That isn’t known but many are wishing him so! It isn’t unheard off for the transmitters to stop for a while and then start transmitting again. Time will tell here, fingers crossed we will hear from him one day. As for the other bird from Angus that was tracked at the same time, he is doing well having found a favourite fishing spot along the river on the Senegal/ Mauritania border.

Closer to home, here in my garden, we have seen a pair of Blue tits visit our camera nestbox with some nestbox shuffles seen too which looks very promising :-)

Snow and cold then followed as did the Yellowhammers. Yes… we had more than one visiting this time with two males and one female joining the ever increasing good numbers of Chaffinches. I was most surprised to see how late they fed at the end of the day too. I also noticed how they remembered the spot where the seed had been before the snow covered it and searched the snow when there was visible food in dishes. Definitely an interesting bird, the yellowhammer, which I must find more about and post new images soon :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in March 2013.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

My Plant of the Centenary

It might be assumed that by having an Allium flower for my profile picture throughout blogland, YouTube, garden, bird & wildlife forums that it would be my plant choice when joining other bloggers with some fun nominations ahead of this year’s RHS Chelsea Centenary Show’s picks for a ‘Plant of the Centenary’. Being honest, I had never heard about this until Veg Plotting mentioned it last week…

”There's plenty of beavering away happening with the special preparations required for this year's RHS Chelsea Centenary Show. These include Roy Lancaster and his crack team of experts pondering and cogitating over their shortlist of nominations for 'Plant of the Centenary'. They have the task of selecting just one plant introduced per decade the show's been running. These will be exhibited in the Great Pavilion in a similar way to 'Plant of the Show' in previous years. ”
Veg Plotting blog, 27th February 2013

I instantly knew which plant would be my choice! Pre blog this one wouldn’t even have been in the running but those who read my garden blog prequel will understand why it is now. My nomination for Plant of the Centenary is…

The perennial wallflower: Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve

Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve flowers through frost :-)

Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve flowers through snow :-)

Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve flowers and grey-green foliage lights up partial shade :-)

Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve thrives in a sunny gravel area and gets noticed by butterflies :-)

Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve’s profusion of flowers swinging on tall stems have been a popular
food stop for butterflies and photo & video stop for this delighted garden blogger :-)

Having such a long flowering period makes Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve a great garden pick for the gardener with the added bonus of being good for wildlife too. Since blogging I’ve become aware of how valuable our plant choices can be for wildlife and how we need to do all we can to help species in decline. In real terms, in looking after bees and butterflies we are looking after our planet.

We need bees, which also feed on Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve, to pollinate our food crops which is probably fairly widely known. However, pre blog I had no idea that data from butterfly surveys could help scientists in their quest for understanding the rate of climate change. Butterflies are responding in changes to our weather and it is now known that they are moving north.

Okay, so I’ve only one tiny reservation in my plant choice and that is that Erysimum is not native to the UK (I’m certain some natives will be in the choices from the RHS) but that’s all. It’s not an invasive species but is a species fairly drought tolerant so they tick more boxes for me.

I have been reading that Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve only lasts for a few years and that heeled softwood cuttings taken in Spring or Summer would be a good investment to keep this plant going in the garden. I haven’t tried that yet. I’ve had my first plant a few years now and its faced some pretty cold winters so the claim of fully hardy down to -15 deg C holds plus perhaps a little colder. Again, that all gets more Brownie points from me :-)

So that’s my nomination chat for Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve almost complete except for one final set of images through a new video showing butterflies feeding on it. I love this plant for its evergreen foliage and clusters of small flowers up its stems and its movement and colour blowing in the breeze. It greats me at my front door when I leave and come home and if I were to do another series of plants to take to my desert island Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve would be top of the list :-D

Butterflies feeding on Erysimum 'Bowles' Mauve,
video 1:15 with gentle background music, try 720p HD quality.

What would your ‘Plant of the Centenary’ be? Head over to Veg Plotting to join in :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in March 2013.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Salmon Leaping at Buchanty Spout

The close views of Salmon leaping promised at Buchanty Spout definitely didn’t disappoint. The heavy rainfall of the day before swelling the river added to the spectacle. The sun came out lighting up these beautiful fish as they leapt in the air. It was reported that hundreds were seen this day, October 14th 2012. I was spoilt for choice selecting footage. I am delighted to finally be sharing my captures.

After previous lengthy posts I’m keeping this brief. I’ve added some text in the video below which I really hope you’ve time to watch. These are just a few highlights from an hour spent in absolute awe of the wild Atlantic salmon passing through a small spout in a Perthshire river. We were very lucky with the timing of our visit.

Salmon Leaping at Buchanty Spout in Perthshire,
video 4:07 with river noise and background music, try 720p HD quality.

A week later we returned with my MIL (very carefully helping her down on to the rocks) as she had never seen this spectacle before. Pre blog this wasn’t something I had seen either! Capturing photos on this visit was tad tricky but I got a few and they are mixed with video screen grabs for the montage below. If photos and video were easy to capture they wouldn't be as much fun.

For those new to my blog and those who might be interested in seeing Salmon leaping at another location in Scotland (near Dunkeld) I’ve added another video here that was previously seen on my blog back in October 2011. Enjoy :-)

Salmon Leaping up Black Linn falls on the River Braan.
video 1:27 with river noise and background music, try 720p HD quality.

There is quite a backlog of unseen video footage that I hope to sort and share here on my blog during March including the building of a house Martin nest on the front of my house. That too was fascinating to watch – again another lucky moment to be there and notice what was going on at the time.

Hoping you’ve all had a good weekend :-)

This post was published by Shirley for shirls gardenwatch in March 2013.